Matt McIrvin's Steam-Operated World of Yesteryear

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More fun and annoyance with Pinball Arcade
Having gotten the cash to license Twilight Zone for their pinball-emulation game The Pinball Arcade, Farsight has almost fully funded their second Kickstarter to fund the license for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It's gone a little slower than the first one, I think in part because it's held in slightly less reverence by pinball fans (though it's my personal favorite), and in part because people have gotten frustrated with Farsight over bugs and delays in their existing DLC, which makes them less likely to believe that the company's actually going to deliver on Twilight Zone, let alone Star Trek: TNG. Particularly the XBox 360 and PS3 users, for whom content has been very slow in coming.

Still, what they have released is a lot of fun, because of the inherent appeal of the games. After very long delays, the first three DLC packs finally got released for the consoles, which, in addition to the four tables distributed with the game (Theatre of Magic, Tales of the Arabian Nights, Black Hole, Ripley's Believe It Or Not!), gives them Medieval Madness, The Machine: Bride of Pinbot, Cirqus Voltaire, Funhouse, Monster Bash, and Gorgar.

The pattern seems to be to bundle a retread of a table from Pinball Hall of Fame with a new one, so that PHoF fans have to re-buy the old tables. To be fair, the new implementations do have the newer physics engine, and Funhouse is now running with an emulation of the genuine ROM, though Gorgar isn't. And Medieval Madness is new to me, since it wasn't in the Wii version of PHoF.

It's hard to pick a favorite, but of these six DLC tables, I think Funhouse and Monster Bash are the ones I've enjoyed playing the most. Funhouse was probably Pat Lawlor's best-known pre-Addams Family table, with a creepy animatronic dummy head named Rudy whose eyes follow the ball around the board while he distracts you with comments. As with most of Lawlor's designs, some of the important shots involve whacking the ball horizontally across the playfield with a small, vertically-mounted third flipper. For some reason the TPA version grabs me more than the PHoF version did, maybe just because my skills have developed a little.

Monster Bash was apparently the result of a failed attempt to license Bobby "Boris" Pickett's song "Monster Mash", so, as you'd expect, it has a goofy Universal-Monsters-in-a-rock-band theme, in which you're trying to collect all the monsters like Pokemon to form the band and go to concert. It makes much use of mode-stacking, in which you can get special advantages by activating two or more special modes at once. The emulation on XBox 360 has a bug that breaks leaderboards, since you can get arbitrary numbers of jackpots by going into Frankenstein Multiball and nudging the table to the left. But if you don't care about that, it's great.

On Android (where you can buy all the tables either in packs or a la carte), there are four more tables available: Creature from the Black Lagoon, Black Knight, Taxi, and the Stern Harley Davidson.

Creature has an unusual fourth-wall-breaking theme. The conceit is that you're at a Fifties drive-in watching the movie, and the game has a rough storyline in which you do various wacky drive-in-movie-related things to "start the film" (the two-ball multiball mode), in which you're in the movie trying to Rescue The Girl from the Creature. The interesting thing about this one from a Pinball Arcade perspective is that they seemed to have greatly improved the flipper physics from the previous tables, making it easy to do such things as post passes. Initially it did have the problem that it was a little too easy to trap a ball when it was just coming down the inlane (the latest update fixes this, and therefore makes the table considerably harder).

Black Knight, unfortunately, seems much buggier than the PHoF version, probably the buggiest table released so far; it really needs work. The latest revision does at least move the virtual Magna-Save buttons to reachable positions. Taxi is an old favorite of mine, and the TPA version seems fine so far. I haven't formulated much of an opinion about Harley-Davidson yet except that it seems very easy, in the sense that you can activate lots of flashy modes just by haphazardly knocking the ball around.

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Last night I went ahead and backed the ST:TNG kickstarter and I also finally bought and downloaded Pinball Arcade for the iPad.

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect or how similar the experience would be to actually playing pinball, but it's pretty good. The one biggest difference is that hitting the flippers takes slightly longer on the iPad than it does on a real pinball game, I assume because in real life your fingers are already on the buttons. Once I got used to that, and switched to a display mode that didn't do as much zooming around, I was in pretty good shape.

As near as I can tell the only game that comes prepaid with the iPad version of Pinball Arcade is 'Tales of the Arabian Nights'; I think you have to pay to unlock the others. Part of the 'Arabian Nights' theme seems to be based on the William Tell Overture.

I see that the original plan was to release 'Twilight Zone' in November, so we'll see if they meet that goal or not (on any of the platforms).

I remember that when my friends played the ST:TNG game when I was in college, the ideal situation was thought to be to have a wingman who would read the stuff on the digital display while you concentrated on keeping track of the ball.
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Yeah, the bundling varies from platform to platform.

On XBox Live Arcade, you pay for the four-table core pack when you buy the game.

On Android, the game is a free download, and all games are sold individually as well as in packs; it doesn't come with any fully unlocked, but there's one rotating "Table of the Month" that you can play for free with ads.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

As for differences from real pinball, the main things people complain about have to do with advanced flipper and nudging techniques.

On a real machine, there are all kinds of subtle ball-handling tricks you can do by very briefly pulsing the flipper, or very briefly releasing it while it's held: ways of stopping a speeding ball and catching it on the flipper, passing the ball from one held flipper to the other, separating two balls that are held on the same flipper, etc.

If you're really good at ball control (which I am not, really) you can make most of your shots from a caught ball, give yourself time to think and get much more consistent aim. If you can exert this level of control over two balls at once, you can keep a multiball mode going as long as you like while you set up jackpot shots. Some tables, like Bride of Pinbot and Creature from the Black Lagoon, are built around two-ball multiball modes that emphasize the ability to hold this level of control for a long time without losing either ball.

Some other pinball sims that don't attempt to simulate real tables, like Zen Pinball/Pinball FX and especially the old Pro Pinball series on PC, have been generally ahead of The Pinball Arcade in enabling this stuff. But TPA is gradually catching up. The flipper physics seems to be tweaked on a table-by-table basis, though, so the newer releases tend to have better physics than the older ones. I think the last Android release may have gone back and tweaked some of the earlier ones.

(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

I always giggled at "Thank You Mr Data Bonus".
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One evil thing about Star Trek: TNG was that it was one of the few pinball games to have buy-in to continue ("I'm sensing you want to continue!") I didn't even realize this at the time, but apparently you had to buy in twice before it even put you on a separate high-score list.

Anyway, that's something that might be lost in the Pinball Arcade version, because, unlike its predecessor Pinball Hall of Fame, TPA doesn't have any actual concept of credits. The tables are all set to free play, and the replays and specials are set to award extra balls (real pinball machines usually have this last option as an operator setting, but you rarely see it in reality unless you're in some jurisdiction where the gambling laws forbid awarding free games). So I wonder if they're going to do anything with the buy-in feature, and, if so, what.

Edited at 2012-09-08 01:24 am (UTC)
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

..."Thank You Mr. Data" was great, but for some reason the line I always found hilarious was Jonathan Frakes saying "Q! We don't have TIME for your GAMES!" in the most Jonathan Frakesian manner imaginable.

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They just announced that they've got the rights to do both of the Elvira pinballs, "Elvira and the Party Monsters" and "Scared Stiff". Cassandra Peterson is apparently enthusiastic about the project, which made it relatively easy to negotiate.
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Bride of Pinbot! I really need to get this for my ps3.
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